Original Pronunciation

English language texts in period speech

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The book Pronouncing Shakespeare (Cambridge University Press, 2005) is an account of the Romeo and Juliet OP production at Shakespeare’s Globe, directed by Tim Carroll, in June 2004 – the event that effectively launched the modern OP movement represented in this website. It can be obtained here.

For the two productions at Shakespeare’s Globe, I made a recording of the whole of each play (using the text chosen and cut by the directors) to help the actors get a feel for the sound system. These were made in 2004 (for Romeo) and 2005 (for Troilus). My reading of part of these productions is available in the Shop. They are what I call ‘flat’ recordings, aiming to capture the qualities of individual sounds and not trying for a dramatic performance.

The accompanying transcription, illustrated in the book, was a mixture of phonetic transcription (IPA) and traditional orthography. I transcribed phonetically only those elements of Early Modern English pronunciation which are clearly different from today. This was because the Romeo and Juliet production was just one weekend in the middle of a run in Modern English. It was devised for actors who already knew the lines by heart, and who had performed their parts in modern pronunciation several times already. It was not a question of their needing to read the lines from scratch, therefore, but of having an aide-memoire for those sounds which would be pronounced differently from what they were used to.

Shakespeare’s Globe keeps a video of all its productions, including the two OP performances, and Friends of the Globe or bona fide researchers can arrange to see these, upon application to the librarian. The Globe also made a 20-minute CD of five of the Troilus cast performing some of their speeches. This is also available to interested scholars if they get in touch with me.

2 comments
  1. Hervor Svenonius says: November 27, 201512:21 pm

    How was the word “mylord” pronounced in Shakespeare’s days? Like My lord och milord?

    [Reply]

    David Crystal Reply:

    Colloquially, it would have been ‘milord’, with a short, unstressed [i], a pronunciation that has stayed right down to the present day, judging by its use in such programmes as ‘Downton Abbey’! But of course it would always have been open to speakers to give the ‘my’ greater stress in a more careful style of speech.

    [Reply]

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